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Fabien Clain, from rapper to ‘French voice of the Islamic State group’

OFF, AFP | Archive photo of Fabien Clain, known as the French voice of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

Fabien Clain, who was killed in an air strike in Syria, according to French media, was the most senior Frenchman in the Islamic State (IS) group, best known for an audio recording in which he claimed responsibility for the Nov. 2015 Paris attacks.

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Clain became known as the “voice of the Paris attacks” after he read out a six-minute statement in the wake of the deadliest attacks on French soil since World War II. In the chilling video clip, Clain announced that "eight brothers wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles" had conducted a "blessed attack on... Crusader France."

The November 13, 2015, attacks at restaurants, bars and the Bataclan concert hall in Paris killed 130 people.

On Thursday, the US-led coalition fighting the IS group in Syria said it was verifying reports that an overnight air strike on one of the jihadists’ last holdout had killed Clain and injured his sibling, Jean-Michel. French officials are yet to confirm the reports.

“It is possible indeed that Fabien Clain was killed," French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on her Twitter account, adding that the French people would be relieved if the information were confirmed.

In his video after the Paris attacks, Clain warned that it was just “the beginning of the storm”.

Clain was “the French voice of the Islamic State group,” said FRANCE 24’s jihadism expert Wassim Nasr. As such, he was “a very symbolic target for France and the French people,” Nasr added.

The six-minute clip also featured his younger brother, Jean-Michel, giving a rallying cry to Muslims to “fight the infidels without ever capitulating".

Toulouse cell

The Clain brothers were well known to French intelligence services for their extensive links to local radicalised cells and networks.

A seasoned jihadist, Clain was found guilty of helping send extremists to fight US forces in Iraq in 2009 and sentenced to five years in jail. Six years later, Clain left himself for Syria to live in the IS group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

FRANCE 24's Wassim Nasr: 'Fabien Clain was the French voice of the Islamic State terrorist group'

Fabien, also known as Brother Omar, or Abu Adam Al-Faransi, converted to Islam in the 1990s and is thought to be in his early 40s. He was originally from the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, but later moved to mainland France.

French police believe the two Clain brother were radicalised in the early 2000s when they lived in the southern city of Toulouse and frequented radical networks.

Around the time of his 2009 sentencing, the brothers were active in the Artigat cell, in the Toulouse area of southwest France. They are believed to have been radicalised by a Frenchman of Syrian origin, Salafist preacher Olivier Corel, dubbed the "white imam".

Artigat was one of “oldest and toughest” jihadist cells in France, said FRANCE 24’s Nasr, with ties to prominent French terrorists including Mohamed Merah -- who killed seven people including two Jewish children in the Toulouse area in 2012 -- and the Kouachi brothers, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo killings three years later.

Audio equipment in Syria-bound luggage

After his release from jail in 2012, Clain moved to the town of Alençon, west of Paris, where he spent part of his childhood, keeping a low profile there. When he left for Syria in early 2015, he is believed to have carried audio equipment that would be used for the IS group’s propaganda.

Analysis: The making and end of a French jihadist

“According to some witnesses, Clain was directly involved in inciting people to act against France on French soil,” Nasr said. “He and his brother were rappers before, so they contributed also in creating religious songs for the Islamic State group, which aimed to recruit more and more people,” he added.

French officials believe Clain played a bigger role in the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks than merely recording the claim.

French authorities estimate that about 100 French jihadists may still be fighting in the Baghouz area of Syria, where the air strike targeting the Clain brothers was carried out. Dozens more are being held by Kurdish-led forces fighting the IS group in northern Syria.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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